Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks brought a couple of significant people with him to Tampa from his small hometown of Maben, Miss. (population 871), including his wife, Mallory — his high school sweetheart — and his 2-year-old son, KJ. But Banks, a country boy at heart, misses the four-legged friends he left behind — his horses. Banks discussed his lifelong passion with Times staff writer Joe Smith.
Tell me about your horses. How many do you have?
I own, personally, four, but where I'm from, I pretty much own everybody's horse. I ride everybody's horses. That's what I've been doing since I was a little kid.
What are their names?
Dakota, Sassy, Big Red and Little Tan.
How did that passion for horses start?
I have an uncle who loves horses, and I got a cousin who loves horses. My cousin used to come pick me up every Saturday morning or Sunday after church. We'd ride, ride, ride, ride. It's just something that I've always loved to do. It just stuck with me.
What do you enjoy about it?
Most of the time, I go out and ride with some of my friends; just get out there and relax. Sometimes, you go out there and race.
Ever have any close calls where you got hurt?
I haven't got hurt yet. I've been riding since I'm around 5. I don't want to jinx myself (laughing).
Does each horse have its own personality?
Most horses have their personality. My horses, I kind of like my horses a little iffy, kind of spunky, little crazy. I don't really like a horse that's really laid-back. Most of my horses are like me — up, high-spirit.
Anything translate from riding horses to playing football?
Most horses, you've got to be alert. They can change any time. I used to ride crazy horses and help people break horses. So I think the whole physical aspect, just being tough, comes from being around those horses.
Is it tough being so far away from them?
I was telling my wife yesterday I miss my horses. First chance I get, I'm going to come back and see them.
You let your son, KJ, 2, ride them?
He hasn't been on there by himself, but my son actually likes horses himself. Most of the kids his age, they're usually scared of horses. But he's just like his dad.
How would you describe KJ?
He's got energy. He's always on the go. He's like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going …
What's your favorite dad activity?
I just like going to the house with my son, me and him hanging out, ride around in the car, talk, listen to music.
Understand you were raised by your grandmother, Maggie Banks. What influence did she have?
My grandma, she was strict but is easy, laid-back, real nice, sweet lady. We didn't have a whole lot, but she did what she could for me. Just seeing her struggle, that motivated me to go out and do what I do. That way, we don't have to struggle. Sometimes, we didn't have lights or water. Now I can do those types of things for her so she won't have to worry.
I'm sorry to hear you lost your dad, John, at an early age (in a car accident). What do you remember about him?
My dad, he was a lot like me. He'd always smile. I hardly ever saw my dad when he was sad, down or mad. I lost my dad at a young age. My dad worked a lot, but he was there for me.
He was a logger, right? That's a dangerous job.
My dad was tough. He did that all his life. He got the bills paid. He did what he could to provide for my brothers and sisters.
Mississippi State was the main school that recruited you?
Mississippi State was the only school. It wasn't hard. I knew somebody would take me whether it was Mississippi State or a small school. I always wanted to go to Mississippi State simply because it was 10 minutes from my house and everybody I knew was Mississippi State fans.
If you weren't playing football, weren't an NFL player, what do you think you'd be doing?
I got a real close friend named Sammie Jones. Me and him will probably start a farm somewhere. It'd be a cattle farm, horse farm. (Jones) has been teaching me a lot about the cattle, but I'd been into horses. I'd try to do both."
Have you done any riding horses in Florida?
I haven't seen one horse here yet. A lot of people told me, but I haven't seen it. I've been looking, though. Where I live, there's a horse sign, but I haven't seen one. But I've been on the lookout."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @TBTimes_JSmith.